Senate Committee recommends greater human rights scrutiny for decisions by Australia’s export credit agency

The Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade has recommended greater transparency, accountability and focus on human rights and environmental consequences when the statutory Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (EFIC) makes decisions to finance local and international projects involving Australian companies.

The EFIC (New Mandate and Other Measures) Bill 2013 introduces changes to the EFIC’s operations following review by the Australian Productivity Commission. The Productivity Commission endorsed many of the recommendations it received from community organisations including the HRLC (See the HRLC submission here). It recommended, among other things, removing the freedom of information exemption for the EFIC given the importance of public scrutiny of projects with social impacts and including a statutory obligation on EFIC to comply with Australia’s human rights obligations.

The government did not adopt these recommendations in the Bill. Acknowledging this gap, the Senate Committee recommended reviewing current freedom of information exemptions for EFIC functions and encouraged the Minister to incorporate current accepted human rights and environmental standards (such as the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights) into the Minister’s Statement of Expectations to the EFIC. It also suggested these standards could be incorporated as ‘indicative standards’ in the EFIC Act which sets out how EFIC will exercise its duties.

The HRLC is a member of the EFIC Multi Stakeholder Forum (MSF). HRLC endorsed the submission of Jubilee Australia, another member of the MSF, to the Senate Committee.

The Bill was not passed in the Winter session of Parliament. A copy of the Senate Committee’s report is available here.